True Leadership

When it comes to life, you have those people who watch things happen, those who make things happen and those who say “what happened.”  Leadership is something I believe is vital in life. We are all role models whether we like it or not.  Question is, are we being good ones?  You will always have people who will look at your actions and behaviors and they will emulate that behavior.  A good example is parenthood.  When children are young they learn by watching others.  The people they copy the most are their parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, etc.  If a parent displays negative behavior, the child automatically thinks the behavior is acceptable. 

In martial arts, we strive to be good leaders.  One of the best leaders this world has ever seen was the great Coach John Wooden.  When I was introduced to the book “Wooden on Leadership” I truly loved Mr. Woodens philosophies.  I never knew him personally, but a lot of my teachings in martial arts emulate that of the great UCLA coach.  I have his Pyramid of Success hung in every room of my martial arts studio. 

I’m writing this because I came across a great story sent to Bob White (a Kenpo expert), by Andy Hill, who was an old student under Coach Wooden.  This is a great article.  I hope you enjoy it. 


At the pinnacle of Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is a quality everyone needs to thrive in tough times…COMPETITIVE GREATNESS. He defines this as “being at your best when your best is needed.” While it is true that all the blocks of the Pyramid play a role in reaching the zenith, there is one block that is an absolute necessity for those wishing to reach the top…and that is POISE…which lies right under COMPETITIVE GREATNESS.

How does Coach define POISE? He says, “Just be yourself. Be at ease in any situation. Never fight yourself.” This quality of clear headedness about who you are and what you value is also clearly a part of Coach’s Seven Point Creed. “Be True to Yourself” is the very first one of the seven points. But what does this imply for you, and how do you attain this sort of clarity?

The starting point for POISE is to have a solid sense of your own values. Is it more important to you that you make money…or have close relationships? Is it more important to you to have a bigger home…or be honest? Is it more important to you to get promoted…or to do the right thing when no one else is there to witness your behavior? Are you “the boss” who has to exercise power…or “the teacher” who needs to help those under your supervision improve and reach THEIR goals? A clear vision of who you are…and what you hope to become…are the essential ingredients you must possess to truly have “poise” and if you hope to some day have “competitive greatness.”

Like many of Coach Wooden’s ideas, they are probably most easily understood if you can see how he carried them out in real life. Beyond knowing that it held a spot high up in his Pyramid…how did Coach demonstrate POISE to us? Here’s a John Wooden story that hopefully will take this somewhat murky concept and make it unambiguous. Let’s take a little trip down memory lane and see if this doesn’t give you an insight into POISE.

My very first trip to the Final Four was in 1970, when we journeyed to Maryland’s Cole Field House. We beat an outstanding New Mexico team that boasted three future NBA first round draft choices…and looked forward to playing the winner of the other semi-final that featured two future Hall of Fame centers, Bob Lanier from St. Bonaventure and Artis Gilmore from Jacksonville. Artis’ team won a tough semi-final game, and we truly were concerned with how we were going to contend in the Finals with the 7’2″ giant who controlled the paint against the Bonnies. Behind an unbelievable performance from Sidney Wicks, we were able to prevail and once again the Bruins were the champs.

When you win a championship, you can only imagine the excitement and enthusiasm it ignites in your fans. As we finished up showering and started to make our way out to the bus for the trip home, you could hear huge cheers go up as Bruin players and coaches made their way out of the locker room to sign autographs and pose for pictures with ecstatic alumni and students. Pretty heady stuff when you are just 19. But John Wooden had been in this situation before, and Coach knew that those same fans who love you today could boo you tomorrow. He didn’t mind the revelry, but he sure didn’t get carried away by the excitement. So as I finished packing my travel bag to head out to the bus, Coach gave me a real life lesson in POISE that I never forgot. As I was throwing my shoes in my bag for the last time that season…anxious to head outside and feel the love from those fans…I took one last glance around the locker room and was surprised to find Coach Wooden over in the corner picking up a couple of orange peels that had been left on the floor. Knowing that the big-shots out in the hall were really hoping for a glimpse of Coach, I sort of jokingly went over to him and reminded him that surely someone was going to come in and clean up after we left. He didn’t miss a beat in responding, “Those fans can wait another few minutes. I always love it when janitors write or comment on how UCLA left their locker room spotless.” I was tongue tied…which is not my normal state. Here was the coach of the newly crowned champs, pausing before he accepted the cheers and congratulations of supposedly “important” folks, showing concern for a janitor whom he would probably never meet face to face. Why? Because Coach knew who he was, knew what he valued, and had the POISE to “stay true to himself” regardless of the situation.

POISE…there is no stepping stone to COMPETITIVE GREATNESS that is more important. Know yourself. Know your values. It makes it easy to know what to do…regardless of circumstance.